The Burn estate and James Russell

The Burn estate was gifted to the College in 1949 by Mr and Mrs George Herbert Russell, in memory of their son James who was killed in action during the Second World War. Goodenough College Trustee Andrew Brown KC recently made a visit to James' last resting place and found out more about his short life.

“Since it was entrusted to Goodenough in the late 1940s thousands of College Members, Alumni and visiting academics have enjoyed The Burn using it for scholarly retreats and as a place to recharge and relax. They are able to do so only because of the death of James Russell in Italy on 24 July 1944, when only 21. The Burn was his home, where, after an idyllic childhood, he should in due course have become the laird.

“Instead, James joined the army in 1941, and, perhaps to his surprise, was sent to India. En route, in South Africa, it appears he fell in love. His sister, Marjorie, corresponded with the girl for years. Returning to Europe in 1943, James joined 3/15 Punjab Regiment as it fought its way up Italy. By July 1944, the battalion was advancing towards the Arno river, west of Florence. On 24 July it was at a tiny village called Vigliano, eight miles from San Giminiano. The retreating Germans had left booby traps and one, in the church of San Lorenzo, killed James and another soldier, Muhammad Ali. Both now lie in the war cemetery at Florence.

“After his death, James’ parents chose to leave The Burn to be used by generations of students from Goodenough and many other universities. Their vision was that students – international students and members of the Scottish universities in particular – should benefit from the estate’s beauty and tranquillity to promote their studies and build networks of friendship and collaboration.

“I’ve known The Burn since childhood and as a student, so it was a pleasure to become its Committee Chair in 2009 and, like James’ father, a Goodenough governor. In this my swansong year I have finally managed to pay my respects to James in Florence, and to visit Vigliano. Villagers explained how the church tower was blown up, presumably as the men climbed to reconnoitre. Both places were profoundly moving – you should visit.

“The Burn had a torrid time through Covid, with reserves seriously depleted. I would like to urge Members and Alumni to continue to give it support as Jan Clarke, the new bursar, drives it forward. It is an essential part of the College.”